Careers & Training, News

Competency-based MC licensing program a big success in SA

An Australian-first driver training program is paying dividends for Fennell Forestry, a major plantation harvesting and haulage operation in Mount Gambier, SA.

The SA government-backed program is designed to allow drivers with no prior experience the ability to get their MC licence quicker by training under the guidance of experienced mentor drivers in an authentic operational environment.

A lack of skilled drivers, combined with Covid-19 ravaging driver availability, pushed Fennell Forestry boss Wendy Fennell to pursue the idea she’d be working on for nearly seven years.

Training is conducted on the job, in the cab of Kenworth B-doubles while delivering logs from the forest to mills across the ‘Green Triangle’.

The program gets competent drivers on the road sooner, thanks to the waiving of the legislated 12 months a Heavy Combination (HC) licence holder must wait before attempting to upgrade to an MC licence.

Importantly, drivers must still be assessed by a stat government licensing officer before a licence can be issued, as per normal process.

“I put this (MC licence program) forward around six-seven years ago now, to say why don’t we competency-base train people straight to B-double accreditation,” Fennell said.

“It’s crucial that because of the limited resource of skilled labour, that we remove barriers to entry. And one of the barriers to entry is the licensing process, that’s where you need to hold a semi licence for 12 months before you can progress into a B-double or Multi-Combination licence.

“So, I put it back up to the South Australian Government about two years ago, and they were prepared to come on board.”

Fennell’s case was no doubt helped by its impeccable safety record. In its 30 years of business the company’s trucks have travelled 30 million kilometres without a single accident.

Wendy Fennell said the big selling point of the program is it is competency-based, “so this is all about getting better quality drivers in the seat sooner.”

“While the driver is learning in this pilot program situation they’re doing off-road driving, they’re doing night and day driving, they’re (learning) load restraint – they’re doing all of the tasks that make up what a professional driver needs to be skilled in, then they’re sitting their licence,” she explained.

Fennell adds her one-of-a-kind training program has also delivered huge benefits to her experienced mentor drivers.

“The other benefit of the program is our mentoring drivers. So, we use the experienced drivers in my fleet to help train these trainees up.

“We believe this gives them another level of career satisfaction, in the fact that they’re able to pass on their knowledge and skill to the next generation.

“They know the drivers coming down the road at them are skilled professional operators as well.”

As of late last year, Fennell Forestry has seen eight drivers go through the program – including Mount Gambier local Joel Flier.

A HC licence holder before joining Fennell Forestry, he has worked around machinery all his life.

Like many other aspiring drivers that Wendy had met over the years, Flier believed a multi-combination driving career was out of reach due to the limited HC work opportunities available.

Deciding to try his hand with Fennell Forestry’s program, he was soon behind the wheel of one of its trusty Kenworths, learning the ropes for a total of 120 hours with an experienced driver beside him.

“I’ve had eight drivers through the program in 12 months. The candidates that have come on board are all people who have wanted to be in the industry but have not been able to have a pathway,” Fennell said.

“This is an experience that can’t be replicated in a training organisation, and that’s why I believe it wins out.

“We’re getting better drivers on the road sooner, by providing competency-based training and assessment across all elements of multi combination driving, helping SA lead the way to a new frontier in national driver training.”

While South Australia is the only state or territory to approve such a scheme, Fennell believes other jurisdictions should adopt similar competency-based driver licensing programs to tackle industry-wide labour shortages.

“We need to be progressive with our licensing,” she said. “You know, multi-combination trucks are a big part of our industry and by removing the barriers to licensing and training we can access a better quality of driver.

“There is a lot of review going on (around the country) but people just don’t seem to be able to get their head around how it works. Perhaps it’s because a lot of people don’t have the patience or time to invest, and the process has been costly, but the alternative for us wasn’t an option.”

  • This is an edited version of the story that first ran on NTI’s blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend